Video of "flea hop" on Youtube.
We first mentioned the Solar Impulse solar powered plane back in 2005 as the solar plane with plans to circle the globe in 2011. Now they're back in 2009 with a manned solar aircraft that on Thursday at 12:11 EST took its first "flea hop," reports the New Scientist. This might not seem like much, but this one small step is actually one giant step towards the goal of circumnavigating the globe via solar power within the next year or two.Back in 2005, the problem with the Solar Impulse was finding batteries that would charge enough without weighing the plane down. Now, with this one small "flea hop," the solar impulse has become the first manned solar plane to technically take off under its own power. The plane isn't exactly breaking any speed records, reaching just 37 km/h during test runs, just shy of the 45 km/h needed for takeoff. Once those tests were okay, test pilot Markus Scherdel got the green light to try for takeoff.
The Solar Impulse has four electric propellors and 400 kilograms of batteries underneath the wings which are covered with thin-film solar panels. With a wingspan of 60 meters, this solar plane weighs just 1600 kilograms, equivalent to a mid-sized car. According to Andre Borschberg, one of the co-leaders of the project,
"The airplane flew for about 350 metres and about 1 metre above the ground - the aim was not to get high but to land on the same runway at a speed to test its controllability and get a first feeling of its flying characteristics."
With good results from the test hop today, this marks the end of the engineering phase and the start of the test flight phase. This March, longer test flights will begin in Germany, with the ultimate goal of accomplishing long-haul flights by 2011.
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